A gay bear is the slang term for a subculture of gay men who are typically hairy, large or chubby. Gay bears are seen as hypermasculine and are often older. Younger, smaller, and less hairy men involved in this scene are called bear cubs. Of course, many gay men who exhibit these characteristics do not identify as gay bears.
Like many other slang terms, the word bear can mean different things to different people in the gay community.
Some men may identify as bears whether or not they have the physical characteristics associated with the term. Being a gay bear can also refer to having a positive body image towards male bodies that are not groomed, thin, muscular and hairless.
The bear movement emerged in the 1980s, in part, to help provide space for body and image diversity in the gay community, which was often seen as focusing on youth, thinness, and being clean shaven. Despite this long history, some still feel there is not widespread acceptance for bigger, hairier guys in the gay community. As a teen writes on the gay teens forum:
"I went to this huge convention that celebrates LGBTQ youth and is supposed to make them feel good. Well that's the problem. I went there and now I feel worse because I thought I was gonna go there and meet some people that feel as I do. All I saw was these little small guys with rainbows all over or just guys that screamed EMO all over. I didn't find one guy that openly said he was not into that. I went out of my way to say "I'm a Bear" or "I like manly men," but everyone just looked at me like I was crazy. So right now I am literally hating myself because not only do I not fit in at school now because I'm the gay guy, I don't even fit into the LGBT community because I'm a bear."
Luckily, there are a lot of guys who are into bears, but like many other challenges gay teens face, finding them can sometimes be a struggle.